Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.


Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

May 30, 2011

UHCA Meeting Opens Old Public Housing Wounds

by Rosemary Reeves

A witty writer named Robert Brault coined the phrase, “It’s hard to build a house when every nail has an opinion.”   Residents in the area of the old Liddonfield Housing Project site were definitely voicing their opinions at a general monthly meeting of the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association in April 2011.  The question remains, what is the future of the old Liddonfield site?
Times staff writer William Kenny described the future of the old Liddonfield site as a “hot topic” in his article about the UHCA meeting.  The point of contention was the amount of low-income housing that should replace the demolished housing project homes.  According to the article, “the majority of neighbors oppose low-income housing.”
Liddonfield Housing Project has divided the northeast Philadelphia neighborhood since its inception.  Its design isolated the public housing residents from the surrounding community of homeowners, which created an “us” and “them” mentality in the area.  Over the years, the government’s failed social policy of concentrated poverty has resulted in higher crime rates and neighborhood discord.  Now that Liddonfield has been demolished, many neighbors don’t want another project, and rightly so.  The time has come to think of new solutions to the low-income housing problem.  
As a former Liddonfield resident, I was sorry to see Liddonfield go, even though in recent years it had fallen victim to neglect, a ruined shell of what it once was.  I played there as a child.  It is the place that has forged my identity, and when I visited it just before its demolition, the ghosts of my memories still lingered in the crumbling buildings.  But I had come there to say goodbye.  It cried out for change.  It was unrecognizable, a withering monument to the past. Even I do not want another housing project.  Not in Holmesburg.  Not anywhere.
We were promised a mixed-income community in its stead, but no developers have come forward to build it.  Some want a sports arena, a park, etc., as if it was Christmas and Santa Clause is coming.  Only he won’t be giving gifts to the poor this year, or next, or ever, if the poor are shut out of Holmesburg because of past mistakes. 
Shutting out low-income families is not the solution.  They have been shut out for years behind public housing fences, on reservations of concentrated poverty.  And what has this policy of non-inclusion created?  Areas of high crime, urban decay, ruined neighborhoods and divided communities.  Are we not wise enough to find possible ways to include them instead?  Are we not creative enough to fashion a new idea?  Are we not kind enough to wrestle with our collective conscience, to have a moment of hesitation before we say no to those who are in need?  What would we say to their children?  Look them in the eye and say, “You can’t live here.”  Could we say that to a child in need, or would we turn away in shame, overcome by guilt?  Would we wish we had thought of something better to tell them? 
If we choose once more to shut them out then tell me, why are we called the City of Brotherly Love?  I say “we” because Philadelphia is not simply streets and buildings.  It is not low-income housing versus a sports arena.  It is us.  By its very name, the people of Philadelphia have made a promise of brotherhood.   Philadelphia, above all other cities in this great nation, has a responsibility to set the standard for humanitarianism.  If we fail in this, then we do not deserve our name.  If we fail in this, then our promise of brotherly love is a lie.
Take heart.  We can still rise above, if only we could comprehend how important we are.  Each one of us.  Our wisdom is greater than this.  In the midst of a poor economy, with bad news everywhere we turn, we have the opportunity to show leadership.  We can provide the world with a vision.  A new way to defeat poverty through means of inclusion. And this would be the good news we bring to a world weary of economic crisis and frightened by global disaster.  Then think how proud we would be to call ourselves Philadelphians.

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